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Fall into autumn cocktails 

Can you feel it? The season is on the verge of changing! I'm sure that as this is printed, Atlanta is at a nice cool 93 degrees, but the fact remains that fall is swiftly coming upon us. At this time we can shift gears and prepare ourselves for the unique spectrum of autumn flavors.

One of the simplest cocktail ideas for the upcoming season is to start infusing some spirits with autumnal and winter spices. Around this time every year, I'll grab a bottle of bourbon or rye that has somehow eluded the hard-drinking brigade and throw in a cinnamon stick or two, a pinch of cloves, and some slivers of fresh ginger. In two or three weeks' time (depending on how often you agitate the blend), the spiced whiskey will be primed for toddies and cider drinks.

Dark rums also take well to this sort of influence. Rum can be a little more forgiving with the drier, more intense spices, due to its round mouthfeel and traces of residual sweetness. One of my favorite concoctions is a five-spice infusion of blackstrap* rum, which makes amazing tiki-style drinks and that works especially well with hot black teas. The only rule I have when infusing is to complement your base spirit rather than choosing ingredients that will overpower or wash out its flavor.

The season for many regional fruits wanes as well. Take advantage of the figs, Muscadines, and scuppernongs while they last by using them in purées and shrub syrups. Apples and pears are an exciting part of the next season, but anything can be overused. By preserving summer fruits, you'll have some flexibility at all of those not-so-distant holiday parties. Fortunately for us, citrus is pretty much always available, so keep some of those peels around. When dried they can make great aromatic components for infusions, and candied lemon and orange peels make fantastic garnishes, too.

Spiritually speaking, start leaning a little heavier on the full-bodied booze for your back bar. I've mentioned whiskey and dark rum already, but there are some great value "small house" cognac brandies aching to be used in cocktails. Maison Prunier V.S.O.P. and Landy V.S. are a couple of labels that I use all the time. Brandy is tremendously underutilized in drinks. It has a lighter body than other brown spirits, allowing compounds with bolder ingredients while preserving balance and giving it great versatility. As far as liqueurs are concerned, try playing with a few of the "herbier" classics such as Green Chartreuse and Benedictine. Don't forget to experiment with what's at home already. With seasonal twists, your favorite summer spirit can segue nicely into fall.

The world we inhabit may be preparing to sleep again for the year, but I assure you through our diligent drinking we'll be alert and ready to toast the resurrection party!

*Blackstrap refers to a molasses that has been thrice boiled during the process of turning sugar cane into sugar. This surprisingly nutritious blackstrap molasses is used to make some rums and is usually denoted on the label.

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